ICE Under Obama Smarter, More Effective, Official Says; DOJ Review of Arizona Law Will Guide Agency

"Smart, effective" immigration enforcement under the Obama administration is taking place in part because of the good decisions as to which immigrants get targeted, says the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The use of "lawful discretion," -- that is, deciding whether to slap cuffs on someone or leave them to their American dream -- makes streets safer by focusing on the "violent and dangerous criminals," Matt Chandler, Department of Homeland Security deputy press secretary, wrote in an e-mail to New Times today.

Chandler was responding to questions we'd posed to ICE earlier today about the meaning behind Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's statements about the "discretion" of ICE to not accept or deport people who are "delivered" to the agency.

We're wondering if ICE is preparing a new policy that would reject immigrants arrested by local or state police under SB 1070. But, as Chandler's e-mail reminds us, ICE has already been exercising its discretion in the past 14 months.

Perhaps one example of that discretion was when ICE ordered Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office to release 13 illegal immigrants detained solely on the suspects' immigration status. ICE denied it had done the releasing -- in fact, it was Chandler who told the media that Arpaio's office had set the immigrants free. But it seemed clear that ICE was willing to play by different rules under Obama, demanding stricter adherence to the terms of the 287(g) contract between the sheriff's office and the feds. ICE, after all, hadn't made much noise about Arpaio's immigrant sweeps before then, other than to say it appeared Arpaio wasn't doing anything wrong.

Times have changed. But we're still confused about this whole "discretion" thing, and whether current enforcement is any smarter.

True, ICE arrests of criminals who also happen to be illegal immigrants increased by 17 percent from 2008 to 2009, according to the most recent stats we could find.

In the same time period, the removal of illegal immigrants in general also increased by about the same amount -- 18 percent. What discretion?

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